Friday, January 25, 2008

The X Factor or Step 7 for Conducting a Successful Online Marketing Campaign

Thanks very much to Alison at GlobalGiving blog for her excellent comment on my Wed. post, How to Get the Attention of 9,000 people in 1 week or How to Conduct a Successful Online Marketing Campaign in 6 Easy Steps.

Specifically, Alison asked me about the X Factor.

The X Factor is a precipitating event which brings or gives RELEVANCE to your cause. She's absolutely right that having an X Factor is extremely helpful, if not imperative, in making your cause spread like fire.

In the case of Dave's story, it was Mrs. Tistadt's UNPLEASANT message which was the X Factor (precipitating event) that gave his "campaign" its hook. Without it, his "appeal," "Let them know what you think about snow days!" wouldn't have had nearly as much resonance.

As nonprofits, we're not always handed high-profile "sparks" like these. In other words, an Exxon Valdez disaster does not occur every day. What this means is that we must be CREATIVE and vigilant in our effort to see X Factors everywhere and then talk about them when telling folks about our mission and work.

Katya Andresen at Network for Good is a master at this. (She's also an ex-journalist - great training ground for finding "the hook.") Her "cause" is helping nonprofits to be smarter at marketing so that they can achieve their missions and change our world. She uses everyday events, like conversations with her children as well as timely current affairs to spread her message.

Good marketing on or offline also includes an X Factor - a current event, metaphor, story, or (if you're lucky) a VERY OBVIOUS precipitating event which helps you spread your cause. It's your job to find it!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How to Get the Attenion of 9,000 People in 1 Week or How to Conduct a Successful Online Marketing Campaign in 6 Easy Steps

My esteemed colleauge, William Masson, sent me this story in today's Washington Post. It chronicles the story of how how Devraj Kori (Dave), a 17 year-old from Fairfax County, VA, got the attention of 9,000 people in 1 week.

I hope you'll read the full article but for the sake of time, here's a summary.

Last Thursday, Dave called Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the Fairfax, VA county system AT HOME to ask him why he hadn't closed the schools for a snow day. Dave's call was returned later that day by Mrs. Tistadt who was NOT AT ALL PLEASED by the young man's intrusion. Here is what she said.

"How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody's house and complain about it. Get over it kid and go to school." (Yikes! Actually it's a little more nasty than this but you'll have to check it out yourself here.)

Dave, who I imagine, was NOT AT ALL PLEASED by Mrs. Tistadt response, downloaded her message from his cellphone and posted it as an audio link on Facebook with the message "Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled!" He also posted The Tistadt's work and home phone numbers. Finally, he ended his "advocacy campaign" by posting Mrs. Tistadt's message on YouTube.

The rest, you might say, is history... Within 24 hours 100's of people had listened to Mrs. Tistadt's message on Facebook and thanks to the viral nature of the Web that number had increased to 9,000 as of yesterday!

It's interesting to note that Dave's "campaign," which started as a plea for an additional snow day (clearly not one of the most urgent issues of our time) has now morphed into much more philosophical debate. Some folks are calling it a clash of the generations, others are debating privacy issues, while still others have applauded Dave for "exercising his First Amendment Rights." Regardless of your take, this story is an EXCELLENT case study of how to use the Internet to achieve your advocacy goals. Specifically, here are the 6 key ingredients for online marketing that are illuminated by this recent "storm."

1) Make sure your campaign is urgent and timely. Dave did not wait weeks (and slog through an ARDUOUS brand approval process) to send out his "appeal." Instead, he uploaded the audio file from his cellphone to YouTube and posted it to Facebook on the same frigid day. The point is that his "campaign" may not have worked so well if he had sent it out a week later and the weather had turned warmer. The story wouldn't have been timely; it would have turned stale.

2) Make your "ask for support" concrete and easy to do. I can't stress enough how important it is to make it EASY and OBVIOUS for people to do what you want them to do. Why? Because people are BUSY! Dave was so smart to pose a question and post two phone numbers on Facebook. That's it! Follow his example. Figure out what your audience can do and ask them to do that ONE thing. I know this can feel frustrating because there is so little time and so much to do in the world. But you can't save the world overnight.

3) Speak in your own voice, in other words be real. I'm not sure why this is the case, but the culture of the Internet is a VERY different beast from the culture of offline media. Specifically, "Web speak" tends to be more informal, more down-to-earth, i.e. more REAL than broadcast communications. Don't make the mistake of using the same voice for both mediums or your campaign may fail. Be sure to be approachable and accessible when you are online.

4) Send your appeal to the right audience. This "rule" is so obvious that it almost seems silly to emphasize but let's face it many of us still forget to "target" our campaigns. ALL successful marketing campaigns require that THE RIGHT PEOPLE receive the right message at the right time. Online marketing campaigns are no different. They only work with people who are also online and facile with "Web 2.0 tools."

5) Use communications vehicles that can easily go "viral." Dave could have created a flyer and taped it to his classmate's lockers to publicize his plight but he didn't which is good because it wouldn't have worked. While "direct mail" appeals may help you spread the word to several hundred folks, by their very nature they are unlikely to go viral. If you want to reach LARGE numbers of people you'll have to use the tools that enable you to do that. Short of buying a $100K spot on broadcast media, the Internet continues to be the highest leverage vehicle for reaching thousands of people overnight.

6) Diversify. Dave used both YouTube and Facebook as "tools" for his campaign. I bet he also "telemarketed," that is called several of his friends to tell his story, and sent out e-mail. This is an important point. Don't be wedded to using one marketing tool alone - diversify. Use traditional and non-traditional media to get out the word. You never know what will drive the most response.

Bonus: Being controversial always helps! Let's face it, who doesn't like a good story or drama, particularly one that is controversial. While I think we all share this trait, younger folks in particular place a high value on "bucking the system." That is in part why "The Truth Campaign" has been so successful. If you want to add a little spice to your markering campaign, make it controversial. This will get people talking and help you spread the word.

I would love your thoughts re: other key ingredients for being successful online. Write me!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Here’s a thought: I suspect your nonprofit – regardless of mission – is involved in one (or more) of:

1. Delivery of services
2. Delivery of information
3. Delivery of action

And delivery is the common idea here. You are, in essence, UPS, with the equivalent of a fleet of shiny brown trucks, and you know what the goal is – get the stuff delivered, on time.

Of course, your nonprofit doesn’t really have a fleet of shiny brown trucks. You do, however, have a lot of expensive and complicated equipment, and you have hired talented and motivated people to operate that equipment. All for the sole purpose of delivery, just like UPS.

Are you keeping all those "brown trucks" maintained? Do you replace them when they are old? Do you train your "drivers" how to avoid accidents? UPS spends billions every year on those trucks.

By the way, UPS, Happy 100th Birthday!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Just Dive In!

I spoke to a group of funders last week on the topic of Web 2.0 for nonprofits. I feel privileged every time I get the opportunity to speak on this subject. Here's why. While the new Web 2.0 tools are SUPER COOL, for example, you can't beat the fact that you can raise money through a charity badge or widget. And, I LOVE the fact that blogging is proving a great tool for expanding my connections and networking with other leaders, what really excites me is the fact that the Internet and the flexible, turnkey tools that support it, have the potential to OPEN the doors for folks that have been left out of the mainstream.

Democracy in - a fellow technology organization that is strengthening the progressive movement by bringing online communications and advocacy tools to grassroots nonprofits says it well.

“The Internet's major innovation continues to be the power that it puts into the hands of the people who have traditionally stood outside the process.”


If you have a computer, an Internet connection and a passion for a cause, you have no excuse for not sharing your world view. Comment on blogs, join a social network, make a charity widget and send it to your friends. Don't get left out. Make the "Connected Age" your own.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Big Fish

At first glance, the story of Jonah reads like a dream engagement for an IT professional (if you leave out that unpleasant part about the big fish). Basically, the story goes something like this:

1. Jonah tells the city of Nineveh, “Repent – or be destroyed!”
2. Nineveh repents.
3. Absolutely nothing happens.

For the typical technology vendor, the Jonah story sounds just about perfect: tell the client what to do, the client does it, and then nothing happens. Disaster avoided, 99.999% uptime, everyone happy. But if that’s the sum total of the relationship, it could explain why so many nonprofits report dissatisfaction with their IT support (and IT in general): all this money is spent, but nothing ever happens. Who would be satisfied with that?

Jocelyn and I had a conference call with a potential client last week – an organization that is considered a “thought leader” in nonprofit management. It was pretty clear from the start of the conversation that their current IT support is a “Jonah-style” relationship, at best. However, I don’t think this is the vendor’s fault: the organization has placed planning responsibility in the hands of a junior staffer with great technical skill but no budget or authority to make change happen, and that junior staffer doesn’t have a concrete set of measurable goals to evaluate any proposals. So the organization is unhappy and dissatisfied; the current vendor’s proposed ‘solutions’ are all about its business goals, not the client’s; and my guess is some other IT vendor will be called in soon to try to turn pillars of salt back into people.

Too often, technology is viewed like an expensive foreign car – great fun when it works, but you never know when it will leave you stranded; and those people who keep it running speak a foreign language – can you really trust them? I think technology should be more like a Chevy dealership: when you walk in and ask for a Malibu, they don’t roll out the pickups and Corvettes. They give you what you ask for.

What you ask for. That’s the difference from the old “Jonah” model of technology, but it requires the customer to act first. If you can’t tell your IT vendor what your goals are, how can they help you achieve them? It’s time for you to rewrite the Jonah story:

1. Share your goals and vision with your technology vendor
2. Your vendor can recommend solutions aligned with those goals and vision
3. Something wonderful will happen.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Black Hat

As Jocelyn mentioned in a September Post , the NPower staff had a day of “organizational alchemy” with consultant Rhea Blanken. One of the first exercises we undertook was based around De Bono’s thinking hats concept – we were asked to identify the hat that best fit us, and speculate on what hat best described our co-workers.

It’s no mistake that I self-identified as a Black Hat – and one of my co-workers remarked “he’s not just A black hat – he is THE BLACK HAT.” The black hat is the pessimist, the guy who tells you why it can’t be done; or at the very least, why it’s going to be supremely difficult. I guess that’s me!

I’ve been reviewing a presentation I made on technology planning at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement last May, and now I am wincing at the “black – hattedness” of it: for instance, the first two minutes of the presentation are a rant about the weakness of PowerPoint as a teaching tool, and why some people won’t get anything out of the presentation. Ack!

(This rant turns out to be strangely prescient when the LCD projector bursts into flames; but I digress.)

The bulk of the presentation deals primarily with assessing whether an organization is ready for change in the first place; maybe 20% of the presentation actually deals with nuts-and-bolts technology planning. Takeaway: if an organization refuses to change, what’s the point of making plans? (At this point, queue the sound of Jocelyn’s teeth grinding …)

Anyway, here we are: Jocelyn, NPower’s quintessential Green Hat (with bits of yellow blended in), our creative type, our marketer supreme, and our optimist, has invited a Black Hat curmudgeon to contribute to this blog. As we push forward together to fulfill NPower’s mission and bring high-quality online IT support to DC area nonprofits, I hope to comment on recurrent technology themes (problems?) that we run into as we support an expanding list of clients.

When YOU read these posts (and I hope you will) please keep in mind that I am THE BLACK HAT, here to point out the obstacles and throw cold water on the happy parade; but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to save the world. We should acknowledge where we need to improve and work smarter! Our world deserves nothing less.

I’d like to think I’m more of a navigator than a pessimist, actually. Thanks for reading!

Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

Sometimes I feel a little schizophrenic when I'm sharing information because although I am a passionate evangelist for All Things Web, I'm also getting more practical (don't tell my colleagues) when it comes to using resources wisely and achieving results.

Part of the beauty of the new online tools, like blogs, wikis, charity badges, and social networking sites is that they are easy to access and use. However, just because you CAN use them doesn't mean you SHOULD.

The best rationale for using a new technology is whether or not it will help you to achieve your organization's goals. For example, DON'T blog to blog, blog with the goal of increasing your membership, sharing information with your donors or learning from clients. On the other hand, DO add charity widgets to your fundraising mix if you have a robust individual giving campaign and a concrete, feel-good case for support.

I know, I know, it's not fun to be left out of the mix. But it's also not fun or responsible to waste precious resources on tools that don't add value. Be creative and keep learning but keep your eyes on the prize - achieving your mission and making the world a better place.

Joni Podolsky, author of Wired for Good: Strategic Technology Planning for Nonprofits has this to say about the right use of technology. (We LOVE this book!)
"Technology is a wonderful tool, but it can be a hindrance when the process it
is meant to improve is inherently flawed. Only after processes are examined and
documented should staff have creative discussions about how technology can
increase capacity and improve effectiveness."

Again, don't focus on CAN, focus on SHOULD.